Police Violence, Race, and…?
By now most of you will have heard about the two most recent publicized incidents of police killing unarmed black men in the United States. (Warning: the following videos are very disturbing.) One was a shooting that took place in South Carolina:
The other, even more horrifically, was the allowing of a police dog to maul to death a New Jersey man who had already laid down on the ground to surrender after being punched and kicked by the police:
The issues these videos raise have been touched on before here at Daily Nous (Ferguson & Philosophy Class, How Many Police Shootings Are Too Many?, Philosophy of Police Violence and Mass Incarceration) and also, recently, at other philosophy sites, most notably in a series of articles at The Critique called “Black Lives Matter: The Problem of Race and Police Ethics.” These events can be paralyzing in their awfulness. And then when you think back to the era before the democratization of video recording and publishing… no words. That this era is the best (right?) in U.S. history regarding race relations and police accountability, and still, this horror.
I don’t know what to say. But if you do, feel free. And if you notice philosophers discussing these events elsewhere, please provide links in the comments.
The only thing that helps me deal with this stuff is action. I’m teaching an upper-division course on Philosophical Issues in Race, Gender and Justice this semester (in South Carolina) and 75% of the class is black. In addition to doing readings on race, implicit bias, racial profiling, the prison industrial complex, and ghettos (all authored by some amazing philosophers), we’ve watched videos like this. We watch in silence. Most are visibly angry. Some weep. The most common response is, “What do we do? How can we fix this?”
My answer is to assign a civic engagement/activism component, where students do a project that they care about related to course topics. They decide what they want changed, set a realistic goal, and make a plan of action. I now have a group of students working with the on-campus Public Safety on their racial profiling training (which has been both scary and fascinating to learn about); a group of students evaluating the diversity of the curriculum/faculty with respect to Pan African/African Diaspora studies (there’s not enough, given that the student body is 20% black); a group campaigning to remove the confederate flag from the SC statehouse grounds; and another group of students examining the effectiveness of the activities sponsored by the Multicultural Student Activities office.
I’m not naïve enough to think that any of these activities will really change the world, especially the widespread phenomenon of police brutality taking place around me. I tell my students to watch their backs (of course, they already know that). But doing the project gives me and the students a sense of purpose and responsibility. Their confidence grows. They learn that writing a strongly-worded letter to the editor, submitting a white paper to the university’s upper administration, or starting a petition is no big deal. It’s something they can do. We’re keeping the people around us accountable. For now, that’s the best I can do to forestall that feeling of utter helplessness that ensues when watching these horrific injustices.Report
I would encourage those who can to support the work of organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative: http://www.eji.org/Report
What the police are doing here is, arguably, morally wrong.Report
Here in Scotland this sort of thing doesn’t happen. Our bogstandard police officcers don’t carry guns and police dog are normally only ever used at large events such as Celtic – Rangers derbies (two very much rival teams from Glasgow). To see news of all these innocent people, no matter what their race, being brutally murdered is truly shocking. Here I wuld trust a police officer with my life but it is apparent that this trust is nonexistent in the US.
No matter what your moral outlook is this is simply horrific.Report
DOJ Announces Initiative To Deploy Smartphone-Carrying Bystanders To Nation’s Streets –
Euan, you might trust a police officer with your life, but not all of us in the UK are so willing. Those who are interested might look at the recent report ‘Dying for Justice’, published by the Institute of Race Relations, which details the “509 people (an average of twenty-two per year) from BAME, refugee and migrant communities who have died between 1991-2014 in suspicious circumstances in which the police, prison authorities or immigration detention officers have been implicated”. Link: http://www.irr.org.uk/news/dying-for-justice/
(BAME = Black and Minority Ethnic.)
But, on your larger point, the lack of firearms amongst British police certainly means that there are less police shootings over here. There are some comparative figures here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/08/armed-police.Report
Hi AG, I agree with you whole heartedly. It is definitely something that is a factor in our society but as I mentioned it is not so much a problem here in Scotland. Looking at the figures from the link you referred to I found that there has only been 1 (1.37 but I’ve never seen 0.37 of a person) case of police racially killing in Scotland, ever. Obviously we are a smaller – a population of around 5.4 million which is smaller than the total population of London alone – and more rural nation where immigration is on a far, far smaller scale than in England. This will play a large role in the lower figures. But overall it really is not a problem us Scots are met by.
Thank you for your little bit on enlightenment.Report
Michael LaBossiere (Florida A&M) comments here: https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/a-shooting-in-south-carolina/Report
An op-ed that may be of interest: